NORMAN, Okla. -- Johnny Manziel has won the Heisman. Beaten Alabama. Led the SEC in rushing.
But what has impressed Oklahoma’s defenders the most?
The Texas A&M quarterback’s verified, blue-checkmarked Twitter account.
“Dude. I was like, ‘Ahhhhh,’ said OU safety Tony Jefferson, replaying his expression when he noticed Manziel’s blue checkmark. “And he’s only a freshman. That’s tight, though.”
Since learning they would be playing Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners have had to watch “Johnny Football” become a national celebrity. After becoming the first freshman to capture the Heisman, Manziel did the Top 10 list on the "Late Show with David Letterman" and appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," where he hung out with actress Megan Fox.
HarperCollins is actually publishing an ebook on Manziel the day after Christmas. And in the last month, Manziel’s Twitter account has ballooned from 30,000 followers to more than 164,000, earning him the coveted blue checkmark.
“It’s extra motivation,” said OU defensive end David King. “We’ve had to sit around here for a month and watch ESPN and all they talk about is ‘Johnny Football,’ or ‘Johnny Heisman,’ or whatever they call him now. We sit around and we get tired of watching it. The whole national media is scrutinizing our defense and that we can’t stop the run. We’re underdogs in this game. We have a lot to prove and on Jan. 4 we’ll be ready to play.”
Yet the Sooners also realize stopping Johnny Football will be their biggest challenge of the season to date.
On his way to winning the Heisman trophy, Manziel threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns, and rushed for an SEC-best 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns to break Cam Newton’s SEC single-season total offense record.
What ultimately delivered Manziel the Heisman, though, was his performance at Alabama. Facing the top-ranked Crimson Tide, Manziel led the Aggies on touchdown drives on their first three possessions to give Texas A&M an early 20-0 lead. He finished 24 of 31 passing for 253 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another 92 yards, as the Aggies toppled Alabama 29-24.
“He can create so many issues,” said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “He can run you ragged. I’ve never seen anyone improvise and create like he can.”
Such quarterbacks have given the Sooners fits in the past. Collin Klein’s patient mobility doomed OU earlier this season. Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf gashed the Sooners on the ground, too.
But with all attention on Manziel, the OU defense also realizes the opportunity is there to gain a little respect for itself.
“Winning the game and doing it on the defensive side of the ball would give us that nod,” King said. “We have to stop him.
“If we do, we’ll win the game.”